Saturday, 19 November 2011

Wednesday 5th October 11 My Cafe Scientifique presentation

Spent bits of the day tweaking my presentation.

At midday I arrived at my dentist's and had a clean, didn't take long.

Home via Richard's and then spent most of the afternoon indoors, and dealt with several phone calls, including one from a place near Easingwold which is hoping to put on events, and I spent quite a while talking through my show so the enquirer understood what I offered.

I got a message from my contact at City Screen suggesting I should get there at 6.30pm, to be ready for doors open at 7pm, to start the talk by 7.30.  I took my laptop down and got there on the dot of 6.30pm.  My laptop and their data-projector worked perfectly together, which was pleasing... and I got hooked up to their wireless internet to show WorldClock, which I knew would be of interest for illustrating part of my presentation.

Carolyn arrived, and shortly after, David plus Pauline, one of his PAs, and a few other Cafe Scientifique regulars.  I chatted with Stephen, from the Yorkshire Philosophical Society, who are now sponsoring Cafe Scientifique.  I told him I thought I could get my talk done in 20 to 30 minutes, and then we'd have a break and a discussion.  About 20 people turned up, and I started by zeroing Worldclocks, and then using my slides, started my presentation which I'd called 'Climate Change, Peak Oil, Sex and Death'.

My first topic was climate change, and I explained that climate had changed naturally over geological time, and was driven by a variety of factors but mainly by the composition of the atmosphere.  I introduced the greenhouse effect, and explained that water vapour, carbon dioxide and methane were the main gases which trapped heat. I explained that over many millions of years, plants had absorbed carbon dioxide, changing it into solid lignin and cellulose, and some of this had become coal and other fossil fuels... and that we humans were extremely rapidly putting huge quantities of this carbon back into the atmosphere by burning oil, gas and coal.  I touched on some interesting feedback effects such as a warmer Arctic region allowing permafrost to melt, so releasing lots of trapped methane, which would warm the region still further, a 'positive feedback'.  A less easy to understand feedback mechanism would be that a warmer atmosphere can hold more water vapour, and more clouds are likely to form, and clouds can both trap heat in the atmosphere and also reflect the sun's energy back into space, having a cooling effect.

I then showed a video which shows really well how CO2 absorbs heat,and then a video of a graph showing how CO2 levels have changed over time.  So these set the scene for a bit about what is likely to happen on a warming planet: climate in chaos, with various feedback mechanisms (two of which I explained), more floods, droughts and more energetic storms, seasonal changes and shifting habitat zones, and sea level rise due mainly to the thermal expansion of water, but probably to be exacerbated by terrestrial ice melting.  Not easy things to talk about without getting emotional, but I think I held it together. I mentioned changes in forest cover, as it is possible the Amazon rainforest could become grassy savannah, that patterns of disease would change, that crops and food availability would become an issue, and that the biggest centres of population were close to current sea-level.  I think I mentioned the end of civilisation.  I don't think I was over-dramatic, though.

My next slide was about peak oil, so I gave a brief overview of King Hubbert's prediction about oil extraction in the US, and that being uncannily accurate, and his prediction for peak production globally being 2005-2015, and the fact that over the past 6 years production hadn't actually increased, despite consumption continuing to go up.  Basically my suggestion was that we are at the peak of oil production now, and that it can really only go down from here on in.

The next slide was a graph of oil consumption, going inexorably up, and then one of those two graphs sort-of superimposed, with the line of oil availability falling off, and the consumption still rising.... showing what I sometimes call 'the scary gap', as it indicates rising commodity prices, shortages, rationing, and worse.

However, this 'energy gap' might have some positive consequences, including making renewable energy more competitive, and a re-localisation of how our communities run. Travel and imports would become too expensive, and might be possible for people to develop healthier lifestyles, with more exercise, stronger communities, local food, growing their own food!  Well, I'm an optimist, and try to find positivity even in the face of somewhat potentially difficult circumstances.

So, we'd done climate change and peak oil, so now the sex and death.  Well the 'sex' bit was simply the fact that the global population is still rising, and to demonstrate this, I had found a graph of this and put it on my presentation.  I also clicked back to Worldclock, to show how much the global population had increased in the 30 minutes since the start of the talk. I firmly believe that population pressure is the other side of the resource-use and pollution emissions coin.  If the world had fewer people, we wouldn't be using so much oil, or emitting so much CO2.  I suggested that if everyone in the world had a carbon footprint of the average Indian, we might be OK, or if we had only a couple of billion people, we might all be able to have the footprint of the average American.  But with close to 7 billion people on the planet, it just wasn't sustainable to have so many people with two and three planet lifestyles. 

And so to death, our final footprint. As both cremation and burial have considerable pollution impacts, there is a new technology being worked on, which I feel very positive about: the freeze-drying and composting funeral, Promession. This has a much lower carbon footprint, as the liquid nitrogen used is a waste product from the oxygen industry, and the remains are recycled into soil in an aerobic process.  Although this isn't yet available, it should be soon and I'm already excited about it.... not sure why, but we can't help what we're interested and moved by.

After the talk, there was a short break and then some questions.  There was only one anthropogenic climate change denier there, but most people seemed pretty au fait with the science and asked how I got my carbon footprint so low, and there were some other interesting queries and observations.

I went for a drink afterwards and had some more good conversations, but I didn't stay long.  I was happy with how it had gone and so were the organisers.

No comments: